We all know that switching from in-office to completely digital communication is not as simple as opening your email app, typing in your eloquent, well-thought-out ideas, and CC-ing the whole team.
In fact, communicating with your remote workforce is far more complicated if you want to ensure that everyone on your team remains engaged, feels heard, and continues acting as a solid unit.
Even with weeks of preparation, it can be difficult to plan for every scenario and really adapt smoothly to digital communication. After all, what calls for a full-team meeting? What can be sent in an email? What is better left as a comment in project management software or your content calendar? More importantly, how do you line up everyone’s schedules, especially across time zones?
These can all be obstacles standing in the way of smooth team communication. But that doesn’t mean they are impossible to overcome. As many of us adapt suddenly to work-from-home models, we are searching for better ways to keep our teams engaged and productive.
Luckily, since VIEO Design’s team has had a long-established habit of working-from-home regularly, plus two satellite locations that must remain connected to our Knoxville office digitally, we have some tips for digital communication and weathering this coronavirus storm that we’re going to share with you and your team.
Communicating with Teammates & Clients
Even when we are all in the office together, many companies and businesses have instant messaging applications like Slack or Facebook Workplace that they use regularly. So it might seem like a simple thing to switch to remote working when you have those habits in place.
However, it’s not the same to look over and see that your coworker is at her desk but has her headphones and send her a Slack message asking for help. It's also very different than being able to wander over to your coworker's desk and have a face-to-face conversation.
When working remotely we are often completely disconnected as to what our teammates may be doing at any given time. Are they actually at their desk working right now, or did they need to take an early lunch, get up to tend to a small child, or simply walk away and stretch their legs for ten minutes?
All of these things are very important and could be taking place at any given time. That’s why, when you can’t simply walk over to someone’s desk and have their undivided attention, choosing the right ways to communicate are vital to a healthy working relationship — both for your teammates and your clients.
Consider this: If everyone is working in their respective offices, setting up a call with a client would be a no-brainer. You’d each choose a time, sit at your desks, and hash out what you need to. But working from home presents problems that offices often don’t — namely children, pets, doorbells, car sirens, and a whole slew of other sounds, interruptions, and interferences that don’t crop up in an office setting.
And considering that we, as a country, are collectively working from home (if possible) for the indefinite future, houses are in some ways more crowded and busier than your office ever thought about being. Not to mention the fact that children and pets have hardly learned in-office phone etiquette.
So, how do you navigate the difficult waters of digital networking when you have so many options to choose from?
First things first, always be intentional about your communication — especially when it comes to clients. Everyone’s time is valuable. Ensure that you aren’t wasting any of it on a phone call or video chat that could have been an email or instant message.
Second, consider your method of communication before acting. Do you need an immediate response to a quick question? Your internal instant messaging platform is built for that. But what if the question is a bit more complicated? Maybe it’s time for a phone call or video chat then, but stick to the topic at hand and end the call when you have your answer.
Finally, it’s important to know how your teammates and clients prefer to communicate. Everyone is different — you know that. Some people don’t like to read long messages or write down what they are trying to think through. Those types of people work better talking through things and would be better on videos and phone calls. On the other hand, the more verbose and long-winded among us (*ahem ahem* just look at the word count on this blog for an example of the type) thrive on planning and/or writing out everything and sending it in an email or instant message so we can come back to it later.
Your teammates and clients rely on you to complete their tasks. If they didn’t you wouldn’t need to be on a team together. So, remember that when someone reaches out to you — especially if it is a client — for even the smallest thing they are reliant on your answer. Be prompt with responses and ensure that your team and clients know when you are and are not available. Slack, for example, has a great "status" option that allows you to effortlessly inform your coworkers whether you are "in a meeting" or "having lunch" with a status and matching icon.
Managers/leaders, this is especially important for you. Sometimes people become intimidated by reaching out to superiors when not in the office. I don’t want to bother them. This is probably a waste of their time. I should figure this out on my own. The reasons are infinite. That’s why you should make an effort to ensure a metaphorical open-door policy if you can. Let your team members know when you can’t be responsive and what forms of communication are best for you right now.
Remember, this doesn’t mean that you have to hand your cell phone number out to every team member and client and respond to calls/texts at 9 pm at night. Keep your work/life balance and boundaries in place. But make sure that you are responsive when it is appropriate.
Remember the Fun
One of the most important things to remember about communicating with your remote team is that not everything has to be serious business all the time. Is your office 100% business talk 100% of the time? No, it probably is not.
Don’t forget that “water cooler talk” and team bonding is just as fun (and important) for your remote crew as it is when you are in the office together every day.
You may not be able to have team lunches in person, especially not right now when restaurants are closed, but you can always have a virtual team lunch hour. Or, better yet, a Friday afternoon team cocktail hour over Zoom, UberConference, or Google Hangouts!
Another idea is to have themed dress-up days or fun online competitions. For example, the VIEO Party Planning Committee brilliantly came up with a week of themed t-shirt days for our employees to participate in and then posted collages on our social media for us to remember. Small things can bring both happiness and camaraderie to your team, even from a distance.
Small things like… a March Madness bracket of who has the best coworking companion (aka the once-and-for-all Best VIEO Pet):
Keeping on track for your work and productivity is, of course, the top priority. But always remember that being lighthearted and fun is highly motivational — especially during the loneliness and boredom of self-isolation and quarantine!
Project Management Software
Something that could be often taken for granted in an in-office environment is project management. If you are used to discussing upcoming projects, timelines, and deadlines with your team in-person, they could fall behind or slip through the cracks when you make the switch to working remotely.
If you aren’t already familiar with project management software, now is a great time to invest in it. Platforms like Trello, Teamwork, or ClickUp (just to name a few) make communication on projects easier and keep your team members on tracks with daily, editable tasks, to-dos, and reminders. Especially important if you are working on time-based client contracts, most of these platforms have in-app time-tracking software.
Additionally, you can upload files, assign comments and tasks, save project communication, and account for everyone’s work all in one place through comprehensive software. When you can’t simply walk across the hall and ask someone how a project is going, one of these platforms will be your new best friend.
I know what you are saying, I run an IT firm — why would I need an editorial or content calendar? Well, you still have to communicate with your clients and prospects somehow, don’t you? In fact, in times of emergency, natural disaster, or crisis — such as COVID-19 — communicating your business information and availability is more important than ever. And when you can’t do that in person, you’ll have to rely on digital means, like emails and social media.
So, when do you plan to send out emails? What do you want them to say? How often should they go out? How active are you planning to be on social media? What do people need to know on there? These are all questions that you should consider before you start posting or sending — and you can record all the answers and messaging in a content calendar to ensure there’s no overlap in sends, repetitive or inappropriate posting, and that everyone on your team is on the same page.
We’ve already talked about this one a little, but internal team messaging is highly important for remote working. After all, you don’t want to simply go your separate ways and just hope that everyone remains engaged and up-to-date on goals and projects.
Most offices already have a method in place for internal communications, be it Slack or Facebook Workplace, as mentioned above, or some other application or platform. But how often do you really use that software for project-related discussions, team notices, or progress reports?
If you want your remote team members to still feel like vital parts of the crew, keeping in easy communication is the best solution. Instant messaging alleviates the pressure to perform that a phone call or video chat often creates and also is available any time for more convenient, well-thought-out responses.
We’ve talked a lot about being intentional with videos and conference calls, but every now and then everyone has to have a full-team meeting on topics. And, let’s face it, when working remotely it’s often good to see other human faces smiling back at you and hear voices that don’t belong to your very loud black cat (okay, that one may be more specific to just me, but seriously, he’s really loud always).
Video calls through platforms like Zoom, UberConference, and Google Hangouts are great ways for your coworkers to get together, bond face-to-face, and keep information flowing down the line.
Similarly, there are some things that just can’t be accomplished or articulated as well via an email. Conference calls, especially for brainstorming, are more important than ever when you aren’t all in the same room together. And with VoIP phone systems, like our beloved ones from local favorite Net3 IT, you can simply carry your desk phone home, plug it into the wall, and continue conference calling to your heart’s content — no cell phone needed.
Reliable Phone Services/Spaces
Like I just said, conference calls and client conversations are going to happen and you need to be able to hear the information when they do. Not only will you need to be able to receive phone calls, but you’ll also need to make sure that you have reliable service so that the calls don’t break up or drop in the middle of your conversation.
Again, VoIP services are perfect for this because if you have internet then you also have phone services.
But simply connecting reliably isn’t the only thing that you need to do. You have to be able to hear your clients and team members and offer them your undivided attention. This is what gets trickier when working from home — especially if you have a family, loud neighbors, or pets.
Before you pick up the phone and start calling clients, make sure that you have a peaceful, private space with good reception and no distractions. Remember, be intentional always and respect everyone’s time!
Get Digital Communications Help from VIEO
Do you need help with anything we’ve talked about today? We’re here for you! Our award-winning team consists of experts in the digital field, and we’ve all got lots of experience working remotely.
We’re more than ready to assist you in any way that we can — especially during the COVID pandemic we’re faced with right now. That’s why we have completely free consultations and a highly knowledgeable and responsive team. If we can help you, just say the word. Schedule a meeting with Mitch or Jess today.